If you’ve submitted an absentee ballot for the upcoming March election, or are planning to do so, you have Erica Peresman to thank. Peresman is the Voter Protection Director for the Michigan Democratic Party, a newly created full-time position after the passage of the 2018 Proposal 3 ballot initiative, a constitutional amendment that increased accessibility for Michigan voters, including same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting.
Peresman, a former corporate attorney, was looking for volunteer opportunities back in 2000 after living abroad with her husband and young family. She ended up volunteering at a polling precinct in Pontiac through a voter protection group.
“I had never been in a polling place other than my own. Why would you?” Peresman recalls. “My polling place in Birmingham is extremely calm, there’s very rarely a line. I never saw a problem there. At this polling place in Pontiac, it was a completely different story.”
She describes the multi-precinct polling center with long, unmarked lines. “We did what we could to make sure that every eligible voter got to cast a ballot that day. It really opened my eyes to the fact that the voting experience can be very different depending on where you live.”
This episode shaped the trajectory for Peresman’s work over the past two decades. During the 2012 presidential campaign, she volunteered as the deputy voter protection director for the Michigan Democratic Party. After the 2016 presidential election, voters’ rights became a greater priority for many organizations, including the ACLU of Michigan, and Peresman became the director for the Michigan Voting Rights Project. The central question these organizations sought to tackle was, “how were we going to solve some of these problems that plague our elections?” which included voters showing up on election day only to discover errors with their registration, or individuals who could not take time off of work on a Tuesday to cast a ballot.
“I think there were people who wanted to vote, who felt it was their civic duty, but just couldn’t get it to work out in their lives,” Peresman said.
This led to Peresman joining the executive committee for Promote the Vote, the organization which got Proposal 3 onto the 2018 ballot. It won with bipartisan support, demonstrating that “voters on both sides of the aisle said, we have to make it easier for people to vote in Michigan.”
With the busy election year just beginning, and Peresman’s leadership within the Michigan Democratic Party, her priority is educating Michigan residents about the changes to the voting process and to help to ensure a smoother voting process than the one she witnessed all those years ago.
Last year’s municipal elections were the first time voters could take advantage of the new absentee ballot, and several cities across the state saw the number of absentee ballots increase by as much as 70 percent. The expectation is that voter turnout – in person and absentee – for both the March primary and November general elections will greatly increase as well.
Says Peresman, “I was so excited for these municipal elections last year because it was happening. Every time I hear people talking about how much easier it is to vote now, it’s like yeah, it is.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent